Police work on their image with teenagers

POLICE discarded their uniforms and mucked in with young offenders this week in a move to improve their image on the streets

Sanchez Manning

POLICE discarded their uniforms and mucked in with young offenders this week in a move to improve their image on the streets.

Three convicted teenagers, sentenced to clean up a graffiti-covered car park as part of their community service, were lent a helping hand by two willing PCSOs.

The idea behind the collaboration is to encourage the three boys to be less suspicious of authority.

James Ricketts, 28, one of the PCSOs working on the project, explained the first step in gaining the group's trust was to take off his uniform.

"We're all mucking in with the work, and not wearing a uniform means that all the barriers come down straight away. When you're in uniform they see you as a different type of person."

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Mr Ricketts and his colleague Simon Odong, 27, chatted happily with the troubled youths - aged 16 to 18 - as they all got on with cleaning and painting the dingy car park in the Church Street area.

"We've been talking about general things like girlfriends and music," he said.

"But we've also been asking them what they want to do with their lives and tried to get them to think about the future."

The boys preferred not to be named, but the oldest of the group - an 18-year-old student at Westminster College - was pleased with his handiwork but still sceptical about changing his attitude towards police officers.

"When I first came and saw the place I thought it was too big and no way were we going finish the work," he said.

"But now I'm really happy with what we've done.

"My views about police have stayed pretty much the same but these guys are cool.

"I might talk to the police but it depends what they want to talk about."

This new approach to police-youth relations has been jointly developed by the Westminster Youth Offending Team, the police and Church Street Neighbourhood Centre.

Marcia Walker, reparation coordinator for the youth team said: "This is the first time we have worked in partnership with other groups in the community.

"Police have a bad image with young people so we got the police involved to try to establish better relationships with the teenagers and improve their image.

"The idea is to break down barriers and get young people to work with people they wouldn't normally have a good relationship with."

Work on the car park, which serves residents who live in Nightingale House on Samford Street close to Edgware Road, is due to finish this week.